Syrian rebel army chief sees victory 'in month' if West ships arms

AFP , Wednesday 6 Mar 2013

Rebel Syrian army chief of Staff welcomes call for arms by western nations, claiming lack of weaponry was hampering the rebel army's progress, adding that an embargo is 'regrettable'

The chief of staff of Syria's rebel army issued a strong call for arms and ammunition from Western nations Wednesday, saying that if helped, the insurgents could topple President Bashar al-Assad's regime "within a month".

"What we have now is little, very very little," Brigadier General Selim Idriss said in Brussels, where he spoke on the invitation of a group of centrist political parties in the European Parliament.

The lack of weaponry and munitions was hampering the progress of the Free Syrian Army and inflicting more suffering on the civilian population, he added, urging European Union nations to lift an arms embargo.

"This embargo is really regrettable", he said, saying the EU ban on supplying lethal weaponry "affects only the victims" though "the regime receives Russian and Iranian arms".

The West condemns Assad but refuses to help, he added. "There is very little support from the Western countries," he added.

The EU last week authorised the supply of non-lethal equipment as well as training for the Syrian opposition, and Britain on Wednesday announced it would provide body armour and armoured vehicles to the rebels.

Regime forces were using heavy artillery and SCUD missiles against civilians and the rebels needed anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, he said.

"If we have the weapons we need we can bring down the regime in a month," he told lawmakers from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Idriss said his army of more than 100,000 armed and as many unarmed insurgents controlled most of the north and might be able to claim the liberation of the east of Syria "in a few days".

He said major cities such as Aleppo and the capital Damascus remained under regime control because insurgents had tried to avoid clashes in city centres "to avoid bombing and destruction". Assad forces had fired 10 SCUDs into Aleppo last week, he said.

He brushed off any hope of a political solution, saying "you cannot reform a dictatorship" but said a military outcome would be long unless the West "brings pressure on Russia to stop providing aid to the regime".

Addressing fears that arms could fall into the hands of radical Islamists within the rebel army, Idriss said any weapons received by the force were tagged at headquarters. "We can pledge they will be returned when the regime falls," he said.

Jihadist fighters in the radical Al Nusra faction amounted to only around 5,000 people—or two to three percent of the rebel forces—with 4,500 of them Syrians, he added.

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